FEATURE ARTICLE

CHIGACHI EKE and LAWRENCE BARAEBIBAI EKPEBUMonday, November 27, 2017
[email protected]
Port Harcourt, Nigeria

CASTRO AND THE AFRICAN REVOLUTION

Ambiguous Quest

he advent of the nuclear age mid 1940s completely changed the military configuration of the world. The United States of America, USA, and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, USSR, leading nuclear powers, were obsessed with maintaining the nuclear status quo. By this, they attempted increasing their nuclear arsenals (vertical proliferation) while doing everything in their powers to stop others from acquiring same (horizontal prohibition).

To maintain this status quo what the two giants did was to take disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation out of the discussion list of United Nations, UN. This gave them unfettered leverage to monopolise debate on a core issue that affected the whole world. In other words, multilateral engagement for global peace and security was sacrificed on the altar of bilateral hegemony. This was very unhealthy as later events proved.

Having taken the nuclear agendum off the UN agenda the two consumed themselves with endless rivalry in an inordinate arms race. Rather than dismantle all arms and militarism, America and Russia polarised the world into two hostile and potentially bellicose North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, and Warsaw Bloc. Their subterfuge was the Test Ban Treaty, Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT and later Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, SALT. These treaties only served to further their military supremacy while creating window opportunities for their selected allies to acquire and perfect nuclear technology. France, Western Germany, Israel and South Africa built nuclear bombs under the American watchful eyes during this period.

Test Ban Treaty notwithstanding, America conveniently looked the other way while its French ally turned the Sahara Desert into a vast testing ground for its nuclear bombs. It was a crime that earned the ire of two young African students in Harvard University. Lawrence Baraebibai Ekpebu from Nigeria and Washington Jalango Okumu from Kenya wrote in the Mail newspaper February 13th 1962 in condemnation of the tests. The North East Trade Wind, they contended, was a factor in West Africa. The testing sites chosen by France were in the direct path of this seasonal wind that blew the same desert dust all the way to the coast. Radioactive residues emanating from such sites would be blown right into West African cities and villages with catastrophic consequences for human life.

Their position was contested by Professor Stanley H. Haufman, one of Harvard's most brilliant professors, who maintained that pre-test reports indicated that testing would have minimal impact on people's health as sites were far removed from human habitat by more than a 1000 Kilometres. He faulted Ekpebu and Okumu for claiming that France imposed its evil design on Africa when, in fact, the European power was acting in the best interest of her African colonies.

If the testing of nuclear bombs was such a safe and glorious enterprise, the two countered, why didn't the French government test them in France among its own population? Face to face with this overwhelming truth the erudite professor of government who had some French blood in him called for truce with Ekpebu, who would turn out to be his future Ph.D student. But in the UN France was cautioned against further testing in Africa following this protest.

A Ghastly Philosophy

The tipping point was the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. America had over the years surrounded the Soviet Union with its deadly weapons. The latest provocation was America mounting its Jupiter MRBMs ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey, within range of Moscow. Secondly, the attempt by US to topple the firebrand Fidel Castro, who 1959 toppled the corrupt Batista regime, did not go down well with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. The US had initially hailed Castro; it only turned against the young revolutionary the moment he nationalised foreign multinationals in Cuba. Subsequently Washington conspired to eliminate Castro through the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

In retaliation Khrushchev covertly shipped into Castro's Cuba, an island nation just 90 miles from America, Russian medium-range SS-4 and intermediate-range R-14 nuclear warheads. American President JFK Kennedy threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike and Armageddon was averted only because weak Third World countries, namely Ghana and India, intervened. Their intervention gave the two nuclear cowboys a face-saving pretext to eat their own threats and back off. But the protagonists emerged from this 13-day crisis, 16th-28th October, shaken. They realised that though powerful they were still vulnerable-a great irony of power.

The fear of possible mutual destruction did not force the US and USSR to disarm but rather inspired them to new mischief. Rather than fight each other to the bitter end, or in the alternative work for global peace as was expected of them, what they did was to shift the war theatre to the Third World. It was like having reached an agreement not to wipe out each other the ingrates now said to their Third World saviour, "Since you said we shouldn't fight each other then we're not gonna fight anymore. But you're gonna fight and die in our place, okay?" That was how the Latin America, South-East Asia and Africa became engulfed in American/Russian proxy wars.

The twisted logic justifying their indirect involvement in Third World conflicts was that conflicts at the lower level would graciously save mankind from conflicts at the nuclear level. War-war in underdeveloped Southern Hemisphere was a necessary step in averting a major East-West conflict. As primitive people themselves spill animal blood to avert a major evil, so must America and Russia now shed "limited" primitive blood to avert a nuclear holocaust. But what number qualified as "limited." Was it a hundred lives, thousands or tens of thousands; perhaps a million?

When the final tally was taken the casualties in these proxy wars, in fact, dwarfed the figures for the entire duration of World War II. Frank Barnaby of SIPRI had it that between 1945 and 1976 the US and USSR stimulated some 119 wars in the Third World exceeding in duration of 350 years and involving the territories of 69 countries and the armed forces of 81 states. Secondly, the warring countries served as vibrant markets for American and Russian arms makers. Thirdly, the protagonists spied on each other's military secrets by understudying captured weapons.

From an African perspective, therefore, it is our contention that the military policies of America and Russia, which favoured detente under threats of total nuclear destruction, fanned the flames of conflicts in the continent. Whereas the perpetrators had achieved peace and development for their own citizens, their meddlesome wars completely underdeveloped Africa. Barely emerging from the colonial-induced long night, the continent risked a second one from which it could barely survive. This dangerous prospect produced the non-alignment complex in Africans and others at the receiving end.

Non-Aligned Movement

The genesis of Non-Aligned Movement is traceable to the Bandung Conference of Non-Aligned Nations in April 1955, confirmed at the Belgrade Conference of 1961, by the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. It was a response to the polarisation of the world into two hostile military camps. In Africa, Tafawa Balewa's Nigeria, Julius Nyerere's Tanzania, Kwame Nkrumah's Ghana, Merian Nguabi's Congo, Sylvarus Olympio's Togo, Nasser's Egypt, Algeria, Guinea, Libya, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, etc, etc, all subscribed to it. At its 1963 inception the Organisation of African Unity, OAU, affirmed non-alignment in Article 111 of its Charter.

Non-alignment as of then described the attitude by which its adherents refused to enter into entangling military or political alliances with either the US (NATO) or USSR, now Russia, (Warsaw). It provided the basis on which adherents felt no obligation to support either side as a matter of routine. This gave them the freedom of independent judgement and action. Members would vigorously pursue their national interests even if the USSR did not exist and not abandon same just because the US existed. Their newly won independence was everything.

The only benefit accruing from the arms race is that it further weakened the power structures of a dying colonialism speeding up African independence. But it is also a historical truth that the resources that should have been used in developing these newly independent states were diverted into financing military budgets as a result of these proxy wars.

Secondly, the local bourgeoisie who inherited power from the colonialist displayed a bellicose mindset in the face of the pervading militarist culture. Even when there was no war African leaders budgeted heavily for weapons just for the prestige of it. The end result was bloated self-confidence, jaw-breaking titles, intolerance, coups and civil wars. Between 1945 and 1972, Africa experienced a total of 104 foreign interventions executed with weapons procured with national budgets.

America in Africa

American intervention in African can be analysed at three levels: (1) Its support for the colonialist against Africans. (2) Backing of corrupt and conservative leaders against their progressive counterparts; and (3) Support for Apartheid South Africa against the frontline states. The convergence of these three factors produced the oddity that was post-colonial Africa. Among these three factors we shall limit this exercise to number one.

Against the spirit of 1776 and tenets of 20th Century Atlantic Charter that promised freedom for oppressed people under colonial yoke, America sided with the colonialist French against the independence movement in Vietnam. When the French were defeated in Dien Bien Phu in May 1955, it took over committing 6,000000 American troops until it was in turn defeated by the Vietnamese. In Algeria, America again supported the colonialist French against the colonised leading to a bitter eight years war. Pampered France voted for military, rather than diplomatic, solution to the contentious issue of Algerian self-determination. One million Algerians paid with their lives as a result.

But it was in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau that America lent total support to colonialist Portugal against Africans. In 1943 America promised to help Portugal secure its African colonies in return for allowing it build Anglo-American military bases in Portuguese-ruled islands of Timor in the Malaysian Archipelago and Santa Maria in the Atlantic. Then the Azores Treaty of 1944, extended 10th December 1971 and 4th February 1974, guaranteed massive US financial assistance to Portugal for its repressive wars in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau. The US provided Portugal with $36m in addition to an export-import loan of $400m for a total outlay of $436m. Between 1951 and 1961 the US gave Portugal additional $500,000,000 to build up its military against local rebels in its African colonies.

American military equipment supplied Portugal included 50 Republican Thunder jets in 1952, 18 Lockheed Harpoon bombers in 1954, 12 Lockheed Neptune bombers between 1960 and 1961 and Skymaster and C-47 Dakota transport planes. Naval vessels included 8 mine sweepers in 1953-1955, 4 larger mine sweepers in 1955, 3 patrol vessels in 1954-1955, 5 patrol vessels in 1956-1958 and 2 frigates in 1957. Other military equipment included 50 North American Sabre fighters, 30 Cessna trainers and several hundreds of Harvard trainers equipped with gun and bomb racks for anti-guerrilla warfare.

In terms of training the US trained some 5000 Portuguese service men in "anti-partisan courses" at its Fort Bragg in North Carolina between 1964 and 1974. Between 1950 and 1975 when Portugal eventually lost its African colonies, a total of 11, 283 Portuguese officers and men were trained by America under its US International Military Education and Training Program.

While Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau bled, the world stood helplessly by and did nothing. The political and diplomatic protection given Portugal by the West meant resolutions in condemnation of the former's excesses were roundly defeated at the Security Council, mainly by American Veto. Disgusted by American brazen support for racist Portugal during the 1971 extension of the Azores Treaty, a black American Congressman and member of US delegation to the UN, Charles Diggs, resigned in protest against his country's contribution to "wars against black people."

Castro to the Rescue

In 1975 a military coup in Lisbon weakened the colonialist grip and Angola used this God-given opportunity to throw Portugal off its back. Under the leadership of Dr. Augustino Neto the country declared its political independence. The American-backed South Africa invaded Luanda with 5000 troops with Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, his Angolan brother in-law called Holden Roberto who led FNLA and local rebel Jonas Savimbi of UNITA supporting.

This invasion broke the proverbial camel's back compelling Castro to decisively intervene following a legitimate invitation by the Angolan government headed by Dr. Neto's MPLA. Thousands of Cuban troops, medical doctors and engineers were flown in to relieve the beleaguered Angolans and by 1976 Castro had the upper hand having decisively won the contest. But defeat did not deter the US as it continued its covert operations to undermine the popular wish of Angolans. In 1985 President Ronald Reagan pushed through the senate a revocation of the Clark Amendment law that prohibited American financial assistance to Angolan rebels. Following this revocation Reagan invited Savimbi to the White House February 1986 and pledged $15m in addition to weapons, which he faithfully delivered through the Kamina military base in Zaire.

Then in January 1988 a combined force of South Africans, UNITA and FNLA invaded Cuito Cuanavale in southern Angola. For this campaign Pretoria threw in 9000 troops armed with long-range artillery, fighter jets, tanks, etc. But Castro's troops, MPLA and SWAPO armies were on the ground to receive them and the invaders suffered another crushing defeat as in 1976. South African obsolete jets, crippled by UN arms embargo, were no match for Castro's state-of-the-art Russian built supersonic fighters that dominated the air war; effectively cutting off the enemies from their tactical headquarters. A humiliated Pretoria had to rely on the American negotiator called Dr. Chester Crocker to beg Castro for retreat passage for its surrounded troops. That was how Angolan independence was secured.

Castro survived ten American presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to George Bush Jn, all of whom wanted his head. But this must be remembered: The Cubans under Castro represented the best example of the concern which descendents of Africa in the Diaspora have shown for their mother continent. Their total commitment to the total liberation of their ancestral continent and the restoration of her honour was commendable.

The joy of it all is that it took black American President Barack Obama to normalise relation between the US and Cuba. Obama is farsighted enough to realise that international relations are not all about war-war. His unprecedented fence mending feat was an aspect of African famed Ubuntu. Castro was blessed to live long enough to see this reconciliation. He died Friday 25th November at 90 years of age.

Buhari: Continuity Ascerta

In his condolence message to the government and people of Cuba, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari adores Castro "as a great friend to Africa, countries in the global South and the Non-Aligned Movement, Castro's place in history is assured, given his sustained successful commitment and towering role in the liberation and anti-colonialism struggle in Africa." This contrasts with US President-Elect Donald Trump's vilification of Castro as a "brutal dictator."

While conceding that President-Elect Trump is entitled to his opinion, we hasten to state that unlike Westerners we Africans are very rich in human relation. We welcome strangers because we have no enemies. That, precisely, is what Steve Biko meant when he declared that though Europe had invented aeroplanes, machines and weapons, it was in the place of Africa to give these technological wonders a human face. So we encourage Trump to bear in mind that Castro's immense personal sacrifice in freeing this continent from the colonialist should never destroy the good neighbourliness that now exists between the US and Cuba.

Secondly, President Buhari's message inspires a pleasant déjà vu in African capitals. Its sheer boldness means Nigeria is still willing to offer pragmatic leadership to the continent as in the past. Just one instance will do: In 1976 the OAU was undecided whether to recognise MPLA as the legitimate government of Angola or settle for a national government as the US, Apartheid South Africa, Mobutu, UNITA and FNLA would have it. A vote was taken and the 22-22 result only led to a deadlock.

To have the upper hand US President Gerald Ford and his legendary Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote African presidents. Nigerian General Murtala Ramat Mohammed was singled out for special treatment as his country was the bastion of support for frontline states. But the infallible Kissinger for once miscalculated toying with African liberation before the informed Mohammed. Was it not the same kite of "national government" that Eisenhower and the West flew to ensnare Patrice Lumumba in the Congo, only to install that puppet who called himself President Field Marshall Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga?

With the fury of the native Mohammed turned the table against Kissinger by instantly recognised the MPLA-led government in Luanda before calling off Kissinger's impending visit to Nigeria. As Africa held its breath the heavens did not fall. But by the time Mohammed arrived Addis Ababa, personally leading the Nigerian delegation, other African leaders lined up as one man behind him. The MPLA was recognised by OAU as the only legitimate government in Angola much to Castro's delight.

Buhari's condolence message echoes the same defiance tradition seen in Mohammed; and General Olusegun Obasanjo who 30th July 1979 nationalised the British Petroleum (BP) when Margaret Thatcher refused to negotiate Zimbabwean independence with Robert Gabriel Mugabe. That's continuity.

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